By Sean Fitz-Gerald
Daniel Alfredsson, the long-time captain of the Ottawa Senators, was swarmed outside a familiar room on Tuesday morning. He has spent plenty of time inside the visiting locker room at the Air Canada Centre, including some of the most meaningful, dramatic games the building has hosted. “Playing Toronto, it’s always been a good rival,” he told a crowd of reporters a few hours before playing the Leafs again. “But it’s maybe not as heated as it’s been over the years.” He acknowledged that could change. Hockey fans should be so lucky. Here are five highlights from when the Battle of Ontario really meant something:
1. Daniel Alfredsson vs. Darcy Tucker: 2002
With about two minutes to play in Game 5 of their conference semi-final series, Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson chases Leafs winger Darcy Tucker to the boards. Tucker races toward a loose puck, and as they approach the wall, Alfredsson rears back. He drives his shoulder into Tucker, sending him face-first into the boards. “They gotta call that,” CBC analyst Harry Neale says over the replay, “that was a hit from behind.” They do not call it and, with Tucker face down on the ice, Alfredsson drifts in through the slot to score what would stand as the winning goal. “Didn’t particularly like it,” Leafs coach Pat Quinn says after the game. “Quite frankly, full of anger.” Result: Leafs rally to win series in seven.
2. Daniel Alfredsson vs. Air Canada Centre: 2004
Leafs captain Mats Sundin is serving a one-game suspension for throwing a broken piece of his stick into the stands in frustration. The Senators are rolling toward a 7-1 win at Air Canada Centre when Alfredsson breaks his stick. He feigns throwing a broken piece of it into the stands. The Leafs are not amused. “I understand players not being too happy, but I know Mats,” Alfredsson says after the game. “I was trying to make a joke, but it was bad timing.” The humour is also lost on Quinn. “Players don’t bank those things like I remember in our day,” he grumbles. Result: Senators earn a blowout win in January.
3. Tie Domi bleeds to victory: 2002
Ottawa is leading Game 6 of its conference semi-final series 2-0 at home, seeming poised to exorcise its playoff demons and eliminate Toronto, once and for all. The feeling in the entire building changes when defenceman Ricard Persson takes the entirely unnecessary step of checking Toronto goon Tie Domi into the boards from behind. Domi is bleeding, Persson gets a major penalty and the Senators suddenly collapse. They allow two goals on the ensuing power-play and drop the game, 4-3. “We have a lot of character in this room,” Leafs winger Alexander Mogilny says, quietly, afterward.Result: Toronto wins the series; Persson spends the rest of his career in Europe.
4. Patrick Lalime vs. Himself: 2004
Veteran forward Joe Nieuwendyk gives the Leafs a 2-0 lead in Game 7 of the conference quarter-final with the Senators, firing a gentle wrist shot from high atop the faceoff circle to the right of Senators goaltender Patrick Lalime. Nieuwendyk retraces his steps later in the first period, skating down the boards about 25 seconds before intermission. “Here’s Nieuwendyk again! Scores again!” Hockey Night in Canada play-by-play legend Bob Cole says. “Right … through … Lalime.” Lalime does not last the night, and the Senators do not mount a comeback, falling 4-1 at Air Canada Centre. “It’s an empty feeling,” Alfredsson says. “It’s never any fun losing. It sucks.” Result:Senators lose. Again.
5. Owen Nolan vs. The Flu: 2004
A stomach virus forces three key Senators from the lineup in a February game in Ottawa, but their absences do not stop home side from taking a big lead. The Senators lead 3-0 by the middle of the first period, and build a 4-0 lead four minutes into the second. And then? They collapse. Toronto scores three in the second and one more in the third. Owen Nolan, who is also ill, scores in overtime and offers Ottawa no sympathy. “Boo-hoo,” he says. “I don’t care. We were tired, too, and found a way to battle back and win after being down by four. They wouldn’t be feeling sick if they hung on to win. I’m sure they’ve got their excuses ready to go.” Result: Another legend for the Battle of Ontario canon.